You know, I used to despise Justin Timberlake.
(Really, that single sentence could be my whole review for Friends With Benefits, but then I wouldn’t get to talk about the lovely Mila Kunis and we’d all be sorrier for it).
I used to despise him for all he and his corporate cut music and immaculately styled hair stood for… the crass over-commercialization of music purely to sell tapes and CDs (yes, they still had cassettes then… not many, but a few) to young girls (and a few boys). He and his fellow boy band compatriots signaled what I thought was the end of MTV and modern pop music.
Of course, I was wrong in many ways.
Firstly, MTV was already dead. I was just too distracted by the bouncy coeds dancing about to the canned, “safe” beats on Spring Break to notice that Headbanger’s Ball, 120 Minutes and Yo! MTV Raps had all gone the way of the radio star in favor of more reality shows.
Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, I was probably just jealous of all the screaming adulation (and undulation) he and his band mates received for what I perceived to be subpar music.
Then came Alpha Dog.
I thought it a fluke… especially so when I saw his turn in The Love Guru. Imagine my surprise when The Social Network came out and it seemed like the man actually had some chops.
And now we have Friends With Benefits.
Granted, FWB isn’t the most sterling romantic comedy in the world. It suffers from a formulaic script complete with prosaic artifacting (the Playstation Move and Flash Mobs), self referential jokes (lampshading rom/com clichés, “this isn’t a movie!”) and a contrived third act conflict with the expected last second resolution.
That’s not to mention the overly bad Jason Segel movie-within-the-movie with palm trees in central park (really, guys, you had to be THAT obvious?)… but FWB’s actors manage to pull the movie up from what could be a throwaway date flick to a strangely funny look at an atypical courtship.
Justin plays the LA to NY transplant Dylan who gets headhunted into a posh Big Apple editor job (and apartment… yes, I am jealous) by the saucy Jamie, played here by the ever lovely Mila Kunis (Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Black Swan). They click instantly as friends and suffer through a first act lack of relationships until they broach the meat of the movie’s premise in the second act and become F*#kbuddies.
It’s rote, we know what’s coming, but the snappy dialogue between the two somehow managed to keep me engaged and interested in a movie that would otherwise be relegated to a cheap rental when there was nothing else to see.
Yes, Friends With Benefits is a paradox.
It has its detractions (a terrible child actor, horrible misuse of Woody Harrelson), but its perqs (Mila Kunis in various states of undress … even if she had a stunt butt) somehow overrule them smoothly enough to make it watchable.
Kudos to Justin and Mila for managing to shunt their chemistry into two specific scenes… I didn’t feel any real heat from them during their second act escapades until the trip to LA where a few brief seconds of Mila’s smoldering eyes was enough to set my pulse racing. Well done.
Overall, it’s a decent enough movie to merit a watch, especially if you’re on a date… funny enough to keep you engaged while sexy enough to get you in the mood to cuddle with your sweetie. Woe was me for not being in the theater with one, myself.
And, Justin… congrats on being able to 180 my opinion of you. With these last couple of films, you’ve just about managed to pull a Marky Mark, so keep up the good work!
P.S. - Jeers to all the families who brought their toddlers to see this movie. I mean, really, folks? Really?